Mortal Kombat: Special Forces – A Forgettable Experience

They axed Sonya as a playable character. And that cannot be forgiven.

Posted By | On 22nd, Jun. 2023

Mortal Kombat: Special Forces – A Forgettable Experience

Having first tested the waters with an action-adventure spinoff in 1997’s Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, Midway felt the urge to craft another non-fighting Mortal Kombat effort. Remember, Mythologies: Sub-Zero was met with middling reviews, but to be fair, as a first foray away from Mortal Kombat’s arcade beat ‘em up heritage it was a worthy first attempt, with praise directed at its entertaining blend of fighting and platforming genres, RPG-lite upgrade system, and graphics – in particular, the full-motion video cutscenes. It sold in decent numbers too, which, despite its mediocre review scores, is a fair achievement.

If, according to Mortal Kombat series co-creator John Tobias, Mythologies: Sub-Zero was a chance to flesh out the mystique of one of the franchise’s most prestigious characters, then surely Special Forces presented the same opportunity. Taking the lead in this mediocre spinoff, however, is US Army Major Jax “this is a fatality” Briggs, an unremarkable character most recognisable for his meme-worthiness. Unremarkable too was Special Forces’ plot, with Briggs hellbent on seeking revenge for the slaughter of his Special Forces squad at the hands of Kano and his band of criminals, the Black Dragon. Along the way he undertakes a mission to retrieve a powerful artifact capable of blasting fighters through portals into other realms.

To take down foes, Briggs employed a blend of hand-to-hand combat with heavy duty weaponry and firepower. Levels were of an explorable variety, with puzzles to solve and keys and codes to find to progress through locked doors. Platforming was light and unvaried with tight fixed position camera and tank controls. Truth be told, the core concepts were solid but poorly executed, which is doubly surprising given the development team’s pedigree and ambition. Indeed, series co-creator John Tobias took an active role in Special Forces’ development, stating in interview at the time that they were looking to replicate the visionary exploration of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time with the engaging environmental puzzle design of Tomb Raider. Special Forces’ gameplay mechanics wore more than a passing influence of Metal Gear Solid too.

So, what went wrong? Why, with such a great foundation, did the finished article flounder? Well, principally, Tobias, alongside his inner circle of programmers and producers, upped sticks and left midway through production. Now, there are sound reasons for Tobias to abandon the franchise he had a hand in creating, but most crucially he felt a glaring disillusionment in Mortal Kombat: Special Forces being developed on aging hardware. Why, so he thought, should he plough his hard-earned skillset into old technology whilst other developers are already being granted keys to the next-generation castle? Yep, during this period in the late 1990s, Sony was already generating buzz around PlayStation 2, with the Nintendo GameCube and Microsoft’s first Xbox firmly on the horizon too. It’s not irrational to view one’s own career as stagnating given those circumstances; the threat of an outdated skillset adversely affecting future job opportunities. And so, Tobias left Midway. Key programmers on the project – those who allegedly incorporated revolutionary real-time water refraction into its art design – jumped ship too.

With the game incapable of meeting the ambitious vision of its series co-creator, Midway should have taken the decision at this stage to cancel the project. But no, they forged on with a skeleton crew who, despite their best efforts, were incapable of matching the developmental prowess of Tobias and his departed team. The real-time water refraction was scrapped, the game’s seven levels were skimmed down to five, the over-the-shoulder viewpoint ditched in favour of ill-executed fixed cameras and view obstructing top-down perspectives. The level design that remained was beige to the core, with exploration rendered tedious through monotone environments and repetitive encounters. Purported platforming and swimming sections were dropped as the replacement developers simply lacked the creative skillset to see these ideas through to fruition. Tragically, all these cutbacks are remembered solely as a futile effort on Midway’s part to resuscitate a project that was long since dead.

mortal kombat special forces image

Most criminal of Midway’s post-Tobias syphoning though was the axing of Sonya Blade as player character. Yes, Mortal Kombat: Special Forces could have played akin to Resident Evil 2’s dual-protagonist setup, but was instead replaced by a purely Jax Briggs affair. Removing Sonya from Special Forces diluted the game’s already pish story too, leaving a storyline with more holes than a block of Swiss cheese. Yes, Tobias’ ambition really was worn down to an unrecognisable nub by this point.

Midway’s criminality continued right up until release day too. Not content with rushing the already underskilled workforce, the studio opted to massively undermarket the game as well. Did it receive the budget to fund a memorable campaign making players aware of its existence? No, not really. Did it launch at an already discounted price to entice – or maybe trick – players and series fanatics into buying the game? Why, yes, it absolutely did.

Did anyone who played it genuinely like the finished product? Well, yes, actually, a handful of review outlets scored the game a respectable seven out of ten, or somewhere in that range. However, most found the game severely flawed, bestowing it a score so low it is regarded as one of the worst reviewed games of all time. It currently hangs at a less than underwhelming twenty-eight out of a hundred on Metacritic.

Special Forces was released as a PlayStation exclusive, but there were plans to port the game to the Nintendo 64, with a Sega Dreamcast port to follow. Obviously, the effort to place Special Forces on these platforms was shelved, the N64 version being dropped during development and the Dreamcast version disappearing into the aether sometime after. Tobias, for his part, moved on to pastures new forming Studio Gigante together with Midway alumni Dave Michicich and Joshua Tsui. The company released only two games, both Xbox exclusives: beat ‘em up underachiever Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus and the laughably undercooked WWE WrestleMania 21, the latter of which commercially and critically nosedived, with Studio Gigante tanking shortly after.

Tobias’ fellow Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon, who didn’t have a hand in Mortal Kombat: Special Forces, did go on record post-release to decry the game’s chequered development. One thing is for sure though: no developer should be dunked on for showing ambition, and whilst Tobias, his team, and leaders at Midway couldn’t make ends meet for it, there’s enough of a solid foundation in Mortal Kombat: Special Forces that given time, guidance, and resources, it could have been semi-decent.

mortal kombat special forces image 2

The fantastical lore and memorable characters of Mortal Kombat on the whole are crying out for spinoffs, it’s just a shame that on this occasion the stars didn’t align. In fact, it wasn’t until 2005 that a Mortal Kombat spinoff was attempted again with the well-received Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks – an adventure title which, alongside incorporating the best of Mortal Kombat’s fighting mechanics, actually featured Fatalities, which are an iconic aspect prevalent in Mortal Kombat games that were sorely missing in Special Forces. Not that a Fatality or two would have righted Special Forces’ already capsized ship, but there were clearly several design and direction decisions taken early on in Mortal Kombat: Special Forces’ production which doomed the spinoff to failure long before the wheels fell off.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.


Amazing Articles You Might Want To Check Out!

Share Your Thoughts Below  (Always follow our comments policy!)



Keep On Reading!

Valve is Working on a 6v6 Hero Shooter Called Deadlock – Rumour

Valve is Working on a 6v6 Hero Shooter Called Deadlock – Rumour

The game has been in development since 2018 and was previously known as Citadel, a fresh leak has claimed.

Sony is Working on a New PlayStation Handheld That Natively Runs PS4 Games – Rumour

Sony is Working on a New PlayStation Handheld That Natively Runs PS4 Games – Rumour

Sony might be planning more forays into the portable gaming space, as per a journalist's fresh claims.

Take-Two Interactive’s Recently Cancelled Titles Were Not from Any “Core Franchises”

Take-Two Interactive’s Recently Cancelled Titles Were Not from Any “Core Franchises”

The cancelled titles "were not expected to materially affect our net bookings growth," says Take-Two president...

F1 24’s New Dynamic Handling System “Represents a Significant Shift in the Racing Experience,” Director Says

F1 24’s New Dynamic Handling System “Represents a Significant Shift in the Racing Experience,” Director Says

"Particularly for seasoned fans who prefer minimal or no assists while playing," says senior creative director...

Black Myth: Wukong Receives Promising New Trailer Ahead of August Release

Black Myth: Wukong Receives Promising New Trailer Ahead of August Release

Game Science has released a new trailer for its upcoming Soulslike action RPG, offering further glimpses at co...

HBO’s The Last of Us Season 2 Will Reportedly Premiere in the First Half of 2025

HBO’s The Last of Us Season 2 Will Reportedly Premiere in the First Half of 2025

Though a second season of the acclaimed series is in production, an official premiere date is currently unknow...